Thursday, 22 May 2008

The Sounds of Silence


Commuting between Calgary and Comox over the past few weeks, I’ve become acutely aware how elusive true silence has become. My sensitivities have been sharpened, no doubt, by the frenzied increase in construction activity around us as the builder gallops towards having the new condos next door ready for the summer migration of pasty Albertans to Vancouver Island (oil-revenue drenched Albertans being the salve for all economic ills and a new resource for BC to plunder).

Even when the construction stops, though, our rural outpost in Comox is not silent. Since we’re right on the water, the sounds of the ocean permeate our life. There’s the reassuring regularity of the stately arrival and departure of the Powell River ferry to mark the passing of the day. In an angry North West gale, waves thrash the shoreline mercilessly with sharp staccato beats. Even when it is completely calm, as it was for several days last week, wavelets lazily lick the shoreline with wet sloppy kisses, and the quiet is broken by the sound of loons calling mournfully, or seagulls routinely complaining. And, when the ferry is gone, and the birds have finally gone to sleep, under the quietness you will often still hear the dull bass drone of a distant tugboat wearily dragging its laden barge in the Straights.

Inside our home, with all the windows closed, there’s still no silence. The refrigerator purrs, thermostats and valves click on and off and there are gentle welcome whirring sounds as the hot water circulates in the heating system.

Calgary has its own unique sounds. Staying in the refined heights of the best and most refined subdivision in town, Mount Royal, I am now acutely aware of the susurration of traffic that continues all night in the surrounding city, and the intermittent, but strangely welcome interruption of whistling trains as they jostle their way through the city centre. The bird calls are different here from the seashore, but still luminous in their clarity, and able to evoke strong memories of my years in Calgary.

I’ve written before of the clamour of sounds in the centre of Todos Santos. Out on el Otro Lado, you will miss some of these human sounds of Mexico, but will have your ears pounded by the surf at times, and jarred by the continuous profitable sound of construction during the day.

There is one place, however, near Todos Santos, where I did experience moments of complete silence. In the Sierra Lagunas, when the wind died, and the birds rested, there was no sound but the buzz of internal life in my ears. It was, strangely, quite scary, perhaps because silence has become so rare, but also since it reminded me of how we are, in essence so very alone in this world. No matter how many activities we busy ourselves with, and how many people we surround ourselves with to submerge the emptiness, we are the sole quiet traveller in this journey of our life.

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